In continuation with our women's health series, this blog post will follow up with when and why you should see a gynecologist, a doctor focused specifically on women's health.
Q: When should I see a gynecologist?
A: There are many reasons that a young woman may want to see a gynecologist. A gynecologist is a physician who specializes in women’s health, so they can answer any questions related to your uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, vagina, vulva, menstrual cycle, or breasts. A gynecologist can also help with questions regarding birth control or pregnancy. Many of these same questions can also be answered by your primary care doctor. If you ever have a question related to women’s health, you can start by asking your primary care doctor, and they can direct you to a gynecologist if necessary.
Q: Why should I go to the gynecologist?
A: Here are some common reasons that women choose to go see a gynecologist:
1. Questions related to your period:
a. If you have never had your first period, but feel like you should’ve had it by now (most girls get their period by age 16 at the latest).
b. If you used to have your periods, but they have stopped coming.
c. If your periods are very irregular/unpredictable (most periods should occur every 28-35 days).
d. If you have very heavy periods, very painful periods, long-lasting periods, or periods associated with any other distressing symptoms.
2. Questions related to birth control/pregnancy
a. If you are sexually active and want to prevent pregnancy.
b. If you are trying to become pregnant or are already pregnant.
3. Questions related to your vagina or vulva
a. You have noticed a bump, rash, or other abnormality in your vagina or vulva and you are not sure what it could be.
b. You are having a change in vaginal discharge from what is normal for you.
Q: What are some other reasons to see a gynecologist
A: Even if you do not have any questions related to women’s health, women over the age of 21 should see a gynecologist regularly to get pap smears. A pap smear is a test that is done regularly throughout a woman’s life to check for signs of cervical cancer.
1. For women under age 21, you do not yet need to get a pap smear done.
2. For women between the ages of 21 and 30, you should get your pap smear done every 3 years. This should include testing for HPV (“Human papillomavirus”), a virus that increases the risk of developing cervical cancer. If you do not get HPV testing, or if the pap smear shows anything abnormal, you may need to get pap smears done more regularly than every 3 years.